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Vintage soapstone vase cleans up at $100 to $125

In the latest installment of Ask the Experts, Dr. Anthony J. Cavo offers a bit of soapstone history in his assessment of a reader's vase, which he values at $100 to $150.

QI recently helped my friend and neighbor, who is 82 years old, clean up her attic. She became very excited when we found a box that she had not seen in many years.


Her father had a job in a warehouse for import and export, and this beautiful vase is something that he brought home as a gift. It is very heavy, and approximately 10 inches tall and 15 inches around. I cannot find any markings.

I hope and pray this vase is valuable. Reading my Antique Trader lately, I see the Chinese antiques market is very busy, that is, if this vase is Chinese. Any help from you will be greatly appreciated.
— K.B.
Wilburton, Pa.

A This is a hand-carved, Chinese soapstone vase from the late 19th to early 20th century.
Soapstone (steatite) is metamorphic rock that is basically composed of the mineral talc. The amount of talc comprising soapstone may vary anywhere from 30 to 80 percent; the higher the talc content the softer the stone. This low density makes the stone easier to carve. The name is derived from the soapy feel of pieces with higher concentrations of talc.

Soapstone has been used for carving objects for more than 5,000 years by many different cultures including those in ancient Iran, China, India and Greece. It was also used by the Vikings, Inuits and other Native American tribes. Soapstone has also used for tombstones in the United States and England.

You are correct when you say the market for Chinese antiques is very strong. However, the vast majority of available soapstone pieces were made for export 100 or so years ago, and are not especially valuable. The price on this type of soapstone has decreased over the past few years with a vase of this size, in very good condition, selling in the $100 to $125 range.


QI have a 3-inch silver or pewter inlaid bottle with (gold?) eagle on front carrying a torpedo that says U.S.N.A. On the torpedo and banner is printed 1907, and on the neck it has I-O-E-O-W-N-E-G-R.
I would like to know where to find more information about this and its worth. Thank You.
— L.S.
via email

A This may be a souvenir perfume bottle from the United States Naval Academy, but without seeing a photograph and knowing the type of closure (cork, screw cap, ground glass stopper) it is difficult to determine; although the size is certainly suggestive of a perfume bottle. The “U.S.N.A.” initials, eagle and torpedo engraving suggest it was purchased as a souvenir for a mother, wife or sweetheart of a midshipman at the academy.

We would be happy to investigate further, if you are able to supply a couple of photographs of your very unique sounding bottle.

Editor’s Note: As the Experts continue to work through the many evaluation requests we receive, we wanted to remind everyone that “more is better” when it comes to Ask the Experts inquiries. Providing details about the appearance, and any background information about how you acquired the item is always helpful. Plus, inclusion of clear photos of the entire piece and any markings or signatures defnitely helps our experts evaluate items as accurately as possible. Keep the requests coming, and we’ll get through them as quickly as possible.

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